Despite interest in the built food environment, little is known about the validity of commonly used secondary data. The authors conducted a comprehensive field census identifying the locations of all food outlets using a handheld global positioning system in 8 counties in South Carolina (2008-2009). Secondary data were obtained from 2 commercial companies, Dun & Bradstreet, Inc. (D&B) (Short Hills, New Jersey) and InfoUSA, Inc. (Omaha, Nebraska), and the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC). Sensitivity, positive predictive value, and geospatial accuracy were compared. The field census identified 2,208 food outlets, significantly more than the DHEC (n = 1,694), InfoUSA (n = 1,657), or D&B (n = 1,573). Sensitivities were moderate for DHEC (68%) and InfoUSA (65%) and fair for D&B (55%). Combining InfoUSA and D&B data would have increased sensitivity to 78%. Positive predictive values were very good for DHEC (89%) and InfoUSA (86%) and good for D&B (78%). Geospatial accuracy varied, depending on the scale: More than 80% of outlets were geocoded to the correct US Census tract, but only 29%-39% were correctly allocated within 100 m. This study suggests that the validity of common data sources used to characterize the food environment is limited. The marked undercount of food outlets and the geospatial inaccuracies observed have the potential to introduce bias into studies evaluating the impact of the built food environment.
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